Protesters divide after tuition freeze
This time last year, the buzz around Nov. 10, the first full-fledged day of action planned by the student movement, was reaching a fever pitch.
The 30,000-strong protest was the first step in what would become North America’s largest student protests in decades with over 200,000 students bringing Quebec’s government to its knees over the course of the seven-month-long strike.
Though emerging from the strike largely victorious, students, once united in the struggle against the government, stand divided and no longer hold the same sway.
“We dictated the political agenda for the last seven months prior to the election,” said CLASSE executive Jérémie Bédard-Wien during an event held at McGill in late September.
“The election was the first time that we, students, lost control.”
After the summer’s provincial election, the incoming Parti Québécois government froze tuition for the 2012-2013 year, rolling back the Liberal’s tuition hike while maintaining their $39 million increase to student aid.
After the PQ came to power, the largest organization representing Quebec students throughout the strike, the temporary coalition known as CLASSE, disbanded, its personnel and projects returning to the folds of its parent student association, ASSÉ.
Members of ASSÉ now work independently of university and cégep student federations, FEUQ and FECQ, though the latter two federations continue to work together.
“The unity [between all of us] was to achieve the fight to have a tuition fee freeze and, since we won, now we’re going back to fighting for our ideas,” said Martine Desjardins, FEUQ president. “We don’t have the same ideology as ASSÉ and so it’s more complicated to work for the same objectives and the same purposes.”
ASSÉ advocates free education and the abolition of tuition fees whereas the federations push for accessible education and do not attack the existence of tuition fees.
For FEUQ and FECQ, a close and collaborative relationship with the government serves as the means for the federations to make progress on issues like the promised summit on higher education.
Desjardins is often in communication with Pierre Duchesne, the newly appointed minister in charge of post-secondary education.
“The minister [is] listening to what we have to say and asking a lot of questions and I think it’s a good thing,” said Desjardins.
But directives from Duchesne’s ministry have been slow and concrete details on initiatives like the summit on post-secondary education have yet to be released.
Both McGill and Concordia received directives officially cancelling the Liberal’s tuition hike on Nov. 2, nearly two months after the PQ announced their government would cancel the increases.
While the student federations work in tandem with the government, ASSÉ is calling for its members, numbering over 100,000 students, to continue mobilizing.
“In reality, though the tuition hike has been cancelled, teaching institutions are not sheltered from other dangers such as the commodification of knowledge,” stated an ASSÉ press release.
ASSÉ organized demonstrations such as the Nov. 1 solidarity march for former-CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois after he was found guilty of contempt of court, and the Montreal contingent for a global day of action against the corporatization of education.
The day of action demonstration on Oct.18 resulted in three arrests and the injury of one demonstrator, Emmanuel Denizon, from a rubber bullet.
An international week of action is set for the week of Nov. 14. Department associations at five Quebec universities so far have adopted strike mandates for the week.
By Erin Hudson – CUP Quebec Bureau Chief